- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

The United States yesterday cautioned India and Pakistan that the escalating conflict between them could hurt the U.S.-led anti-terrorism effort, as the two nuclear rivals traded sanctions and continued their biggest military buildup in nearly 15 years.
While recognizing the two countries' rights to protect their security, the Bush administration expressed concern that Pakistan may be forced to redeploy manpower from its border with Afghanistan, where thousands of troops are hunting Osama bin Laden and other members of his al Qaeda network.
"They have not yet moved forces from the Afghan border, and that is very encouraging to us, because it would be a big disappointment to us," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters.
"They must have seven or eight, nine battalions along the Pakistan-Afghan border, which is clearly a deterrent to people trying to come across trying to escape from Afghanistan," he said.
India was the first to announce yesterday that it would halve its embassy staff in Islamabad and ban Pakistani aircraft from flying over Indian airspace.
Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said the sanctions were the result of Pakistan's attempts to "dupe" the world with "cosmetic measures and non-measures" against two Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups, accused by India of carrying out an attack on its Parliament.
On Wednesday, the United States blacklisted the groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, as terrorist organizations. The designation allows Washington to freeze their U.S. assets, bans contributions from U.S. citizens and groups, and authorizes U.S. missions abroad to refuse entry visas to their members.
Both India and Pakistan have put missiles on alert and prepared for a war they say they don't want, after daily exchanges of gunfire since the Dec. 13 gun-and-grenade attack on the Indian Parliament that killed 14 persons, including the five attackers.
Under pressure from Washington, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack, and his government froze the assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and arrested Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar. He also spoke out against Muslim militants in Pakistan, saying they "undermine Islam."
Yesterday, Pakistan imposed reciprocal sanctions against India shortly after New Delhi's announcement.
"Such efforts will only increase tension, and we are forced to take retaliatory actions," said Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan.
Mr. Singh said the downgrade of the embassy staff, now at 110 persons, would happen in 48 hours and that the airspace ban would take effect Tuesday.
In Washington, Mr. Rumsfeld cautioned that the airspace ban could hamper the overflight rights offered by both countries to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"If the situation became more tense, we could have problems with air overflights because of the problem of deconfliction," he said. "That would be difficult for us and unfortunate."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell continued his telephone diplomacy yesterday and spoke with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. On Wednesday, Mr. Powell talked twice with Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Singh.
"The message remains the same," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said. "We expect both countries to continue to act responsibly to avoid a conflict that would have no good results for either side.
"Each country has the right to take those diplomatic steps it believes necessary to preserve its security. We think and expect that both India and Pakistan are giving careful consideration to how most effectively to resolve the situation that confronts them," he said.
Mr. Reeker had no details of any plans for talks between the two countries but noted that its leaders were due to meet at a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Nepal next month.
"The reports we have seen of missile deployments and other military movements can only heighten tensions and uncertainty," he said. "It's important for each side to avoid actions that can raise tensions and spiral out of control."
India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the half-century since their independence from Britain. Two of the wars have been over the disputed region of Kashmir, and in both cases, the United Nations brokered a cease-fire.
In 1968, the two countries refused to sign the newly completed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Six years later, India tested a "peaceful" nuclear device, and Pakistan ordered its scientists to develop nuclear weapons, claiming success in 1987.
After nuclear tests by both countries three years ago, the United States imposed sanctions, but most of them have been lifted as a reward for cooperation with Washington in its war on terrorism.

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